Interview with Tessa Van Olst, physical therapist and coach


Who are you? What do you do?

-I am a physical therapist, a lot of people come to me with physical problems. Considering that the connection between emotion, brain and body is very well known by now, I tend to address emotional factors as well in the way I treat people.

As a physiotherapist specialized in neurological issues what can you tell us about burnout?

-I think burnout itself is a reaction of your body to an overdose and overload of activities.

Burnout is within the body and the brain, it’s not primarily an emotional pathology. Researchers have found out that there is a lack of balance in your hormonal levels in your body and brain. When you have a lack of balance for a very long time, your brain is in a stress mode and sends signals to your body via those special hormones (cortisol and adrenaline). When you decide to ignore those signals there is a moment your body decides to protect you and it shuts you down. When you are in that state, in a severe burn-out, you don’t have energy at all. There is a total imbalance in all recover functions and your body does not have the ability to recover on its own.

How does it start and how does it evolve?

-We can consider that there are three phases in which you can develop a Burnout.

Phase 1, most of the time there are signals within your body like neck or arm pain. You feel a bit tired and you start to pull off sport and/or social events because you are too busy. Many times there is an imbalance between activities and rest during your weeks.

Phase 2, you start to understand that something is off. You lack energy on a structural basis and you become more and more often sick. You can be aware of stress in your body and mind. You still have the energy to go to work but your mind says ‘I don’t want to do anything’. This phase is very long and you can really abuse your body and your mind for a very long time, but when the shifting point to phase 3 is coming it’s really severe.

Phase 3, there is a total neuro hormonal imbalance and your body all of a sudden shuts down and you are done.

Do you have practical tips/ exercises to do when you are dealing with something like that?

-When you are in a severe burnout, you need to go way low with all your activities to distress your body. When it’s distressed you can slowly start with building up your activities.

When you are in “phase 2”, it is still reversible. My tips for people in this phase are to look at your sleep cycle, your daily routine and weekly planning because there is definitely something wrong with at least one of those three things. Very important as well is to get back at what you like and have fun with, if possible on a daily basis. It trains your brain and we know now that a positive mindset can help you in a burn-out situation.

When in “phase 3”, start with a small amount of movement, it helps the brain. You do this for a very small amount of time and maybe few times a day like five minutes and you slowly build this up. Addressing that part helps your mind to get rid of stressors, you’ll feel a bit brighter and it gives you back a bit energy.

Also, you should go do things you like because it will give you energy but when you overdo it, it will give you burnout again. It’s a question of balance, don’t plan three events in one day. Start with one thing, when you see that it works and gives you energy you can do it more often. Stick at one thing and see if it works for you. When it’s working you can address an other thing and then later an other thing. As a physical therapist we can not do a lot in “phase 3” but a good coach can, so get a good coach. It is very important that you understand that it’s going to take a lot of time. It might need just as much time to get out of it as it took to come to phase 3.


Can you completely heal from a severe burnout?

-You can overcome it. You have a burnout but you are not your burnout; your burnout is not your identity. So you have to know who you are, what is your identity and use your talents and gifts that make you unique. You have to take control of your life again and build it up from zero to a normal state of being again. Your body has suffered damage and has to recover from it but I think it is possible. Look at researches and programs made by Dr. Caroline Leaf, an American cognitive neuroscientist. She has built up a program that helps to retrain the brain, it shows that brain cells could recover and all through our lives can develop and grow. So I think that with such a program you can learn how to retrain your brain, also with things like concentration, speech. You can really do a lot with your brain!

When someone has been through this, what are the chances that he or she will go through it again?

-In our country, we want people to go back to work as soon as possible. In many occasions that would be the right case (phase 1 & 2). Nevertheless when we don’t address why the overload was there (mindset, sleep problem, problem at work…), most patients fall back right in. Things can go right for maybe half a year and then they get back in problems again. When nothing changes, it goes wrong. You really have to understand how you got in and how you got out.


Aside your activity as physiotherapist, you are also a coach. It’s a fact that most people who went through a burn-out change from job/activity after they recovered. As a coach what are your advises to someone who is struggling to find his/her path?

-First, when it comes to burnout, get a hold of a good balance between activities and enough rest. Secondly, you have to get back to your core, to your real identity and your real destiny. A lot of people think that they fulfill their destiny when they are successful in a certain area of their life but I don’t think that is destiny. They mix up their identity and ‘feeling successful’ with results of what they do instead of who they are or have become. We are wired to love, we are wired for good relationships, we are wired to be positive thinkers and that is destiny. I believe you can fulfill your destiny in what ever you do because of your mindset and because you focus on others, have positive talks and you let your talents flourish within your work or beside your work.

So, you should ask yourself some questions like, what do you believe about yourself? What is your identity? Who are you supposed to be? Do you act insecure and why?

Eliminate the lies, write it down and understand that your destiny is not to be successful in one single area in your life or just by what you do. Start to look at other areas in your life like your relationships, your environment and what you need within those things and who you are. And don’t forget that all jobs are worthy if you understand your identity and destiny because then you will do your job with love.

You can find Tessa’s positive vibes on her Facebook page or on her Instagram account


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